Capcom has always had low expectations of the Dead Rising audience. An interesting game premise - open-world full of zombies, ticking-clock narrative, freedom to choose whether to help other people or not - has been mired by stupidity, with weapons and silly costumes taking creative precedence.
The developers appeal to the lowest-common denominator.
Instead of working in the complex stories and sense of peril that the world of Dead Rising naturally suggests, Capcom shoots for cheap, boring splatterhouse thrills, reminiscent of films that were crap in the 1970s and are still crap now.
Dead Rising 3 is the culmination of that effort, a witless, at-odds-with-itself videogame - a total shrug of the shoulders.
The tragedy here is that you can see more intelligent ideas bubbling underneath, just trying to get out. There are moments in Dead Rising 3 - and the other Dead Rising games - of genuine sincerity, where all of a sudden it gets properly scary.
I'm thinking of the military entering the building in the original Dead Rising, or Katy and Chuck's relationship in Dead Rising 2. Sometimes these games really work. In Dead Rising 3, that moment happens right at the start.
As Nick Ramos, a mechanic trying to escape the zombie infested city of Los Perdidos, you begin the game walking through a dark, empty tunnel, completely unarmed. Finding a generator, you flip the lights and suddenly realise that you've been surrounded by walking dead the entire time.
The zombies wretch and screech, and with no weapons and only a tiny health bar, you have to dodge past them - climbing over cars and sprinting through gaps in the crowd - until you get out of the tunnel and back into the light of day. Here you find yourself looking over the freeway with a horde of zombies stretching as far as the eye can see.
It's gut-wrenching. Typically, Dead Rising has you murdering zombies by the hundreds - but the opening of Dead Rising 3 makes them genuinely threatening.
I can remember looking at that freeway, my health blinking, my weapon slots empty save for a flashlight, wondering how the hell I was going to make it home. This is Dead Rising at its best, when the chips are down and the tension is up.
It often seems like Capcom wants to head in this direction more but that it doesn't have the moxie to go through with it. Is it creative cowardice or cynicism? Does Capcom assume zombie fans won't go for anything above gross-out gore and dick jokes? Surely in the wake of The Walking Dead, that can't be it, right?
Developed in a vacuum
Either way, Dead Rising 3, like its predecessors, quickly devolves into grindhouse crap.
It's been developed in a vacuum. It seems oblivious to the past three or four years, when tastes have matured. CoD: Ghosts didn't get a cool reception because people are contrary on purpose, or because they enjoy dumping on big franchises. It's because they've played things like Gone Home, The Last of Us and Spec Ops.
Critics and players have come to expect more of videogames.
And that's why Dead Rising 3's central conceit, whereby you can jury-rig household items into "crazy" combo weapons, doesn't really wash. It's hard these days to get excited about a game where you strap a circular saw to a sledgehammer and rename it THE SLEDGESAW.
It's not funny, it's not exciting, it's not "so videogames." It's embarrassing. Games are better than this now.
Kill 'em all
And there's no challenge in Dead Rising 3. I played the whole story and did all the side missions without dying once, and without any of my AI partners dying either. The zombies are docile and weak. The idea isn't to avoid and survive them, it's to kill them, in as many creative ways you can. Even if you get off on all the zany weapons and blood, surely that's got to get boring.
The reason Minecraft works so well is because it makes you labour for your victories. Your wooden shack means a lot to you because you built it using materials you personally harvested. It wouldn't be the same if you just threw it together in Free Mode. Dead Rising 3 has no such sense of reward.
Weapons and health items are so plentiful, and enemies are so weak, that everything leaves you feeling empty. You killed 60,000 zombies? Well yeah, of course you did. There are lockers where you can spawn an infinite supply of machine-guns.
Lack of danger
Nothing is hard. That freeway I mentioned earlier? I ran the entire length of it without getting grabbed, let alone hurt, by a single zombie.
And that lack of danger breaks the back of the narrative. It's hard to get caught up in the plight of the characters when, as soon as the cutscene ends, you can go kill 20 zombies with your bare hands.
The details are missing, too. It used to be that you'd rescue a survivor and then he'd sit around in the safe room for the rest of the game, chatting with the others and helping out with little jobs. In Dead Rising 2 there was even some drama between the people you'd saved. You'd have to go find them food, or resolve disputes that had broken out.
There's none of that in Dead Rising 3. Anyone you bring back to the safe room just disappears. In fact, most of the people you find in side missions don't come back to your hideout at all. They just say "thanks for the help, I can take care of myself now" and vanish.
It's like a producer at Capcom read a comment, presumably from H4rdcoregam3r4lief, saying "ecsort missions are ghey" and got worried about alienating the core demographic.
Everything about Dead Rising 3 is superficial. The huge crowds of zombies are there only to make you impressed with the machine the game runs on. Any tangible sense of danger, excitement or even fun is absent. It's a game of wrong assumptions. It assumes more zombies equals more better, that making things easy makes things more fun and that we'll all clap our hands like six-year-olds whenever a zombie gets decapitated with a sword.
But in reality, the best zombie stories focus on human drama. Players enjoy a challenge. And although Capcom hasn't noticed, videogames and the people that play them have matured a great deal. Despite all its hand-waving, Dead Rising 3 has nothing to offer.
- Gameplay: 4/10 - Fighting zombies is meaningless and human enemies take too many bullets before they die. It's laborious and unrewarding.
- Graphics: 7/10 - It looks fine but you can barely tell that this is an Xbox One game.
- Sound: 7/10 - The synth score is actually pretty good and the zombies, en masse, are loud and scary. The voice acting is bottom notch, though.
- Writing: 4/10 - Stupid. Just really stupid. There's a boss you fight who has a flamethrower shaped like a penis. If you showed that to Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer they'd laugh in your face.
- Replay value: 6/10 - It's plenty big and there's all the usual weapon and character customisation, but the side missions are usually just fetch quests and the story is uninteresting, so whether you'll want to play again, I don't know.
- Overall: 5/10 - A waste of an idea and good development talent. Dead Rising 3 is a repetitive and dull videogame that consistently underestimates its audience.
Want to know what our review scores mean? Have a look at how we review games.
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